Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.

At age 77, Ed Ruscha is still putting a lot of thought…and a little bit of mischief… into his work. Ruscha is a masterful print artist, painter, filmmaker and photographer.

Mark Twain Quote

The Mark Twain Quote lithograph, one of the Ruscha’s available in our gallery as of this writing, is a fine example of the thought and humor that goes into each of his works. Using a Mark Twain quote, The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas, shadowing it with its German translation on a gradient background, makes the visual impact of Mark Twain Quote very powerful and does what Ruscha intends to do with all of his work: “Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.” he said.

Ruscha’s Early Mischief

His first book of photographs, called Twenty Six Gasoline Stations, had a profound influence on the direction of pop culture, photography and mid-century art. Self-published in 1963, and selling for $3 a copy, Twenty Six Gasoline Stations contains stark, black and white photographs of twenty six gas stations along Route 66 that Ruscha passed on the trips he took from his Los Angeles home to the home of his mother in Oklahoma City, where he was raised.

In a 1973 interview, Ruscha said, “I realized that for the first time this book had an inexplicable thing I was looking for, and that was a kind of a “Huh?” That‘s what I’ve always worked around. All it is is a device to disarm somebody with my particular message.”

Making Mischief

Twenty Six Gasoline Stations is considered to be the first modern artist’s book. Ruscha sent a copy to the Library of Congress, for inclusion in its collection. It had no text, austere photos…not the kind of art book that had been seen before… and was rejected by the Library of Congress.

At that time, Ruscha occasionally did commercial art work for the fledgling Artforum Magazine, using the name, Eddie Russia. After the Library of Congress rejected his book, Ruscha took out an ad in the magazine, that read, “ REJECTED. Oct. 2, 1963 by the Library of Congress, Washington 25, D.C. Copies available @ $3.00” Today, copies of Twenty Six Gasoline Stations are part of the permanent collection of major venues, like MoMA and the Tate, and original editions of the book, are coveted by art collectors.

A signed first edition can sell for as much as twenty five thousand dollars. The 1964 Artforum Magazine, with the original ad, is also a collector’s item.

A Way With Words

Ruscha began to paint words on a trip to Paris in 1961. In 1969, he created a series of “Liquid Word” images during a two-month fellowship at L.A.’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop. Although Ruscha says that he has, “no agenda, no message”, he does focus on aspects of American culture that he finds appealing. His perspective, which he claims has a “lack of emotion” allows viewers to bring their own point of view to his work.

Ruscha said he was inspired to be an artist when, as a boy, he watched a neighbor draw cartoons with pen and ink. “I could see I was just born for the job,” Ruscha said, ‘born to watch paint dry,”

View More Work from Ed Ruscha

Photo top right: Ed Ruscha (1970) by Jerry McMillan